Book Review: The Light Years

The details:

Title: The Light Years (Cazalet Chronicle #1)
Author: Elizabeth Jane Howard
Genre: Fiction (first published in 1990)
Pages: 448
Where to buy: Barnes & Noble

This is another review it has taken me a long time to write. I felt like I should have loved this book, but I was mostly ambivalent about it. The various subplots read like very short stories following one character and then another. The large cast of characters will probably serve the author well in the coming books in the series, but The Light Years seemed like the setup to something else. The end of the book was anticlimactic; it had been building up to World War II, but instead ended with Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. There’s no big event to center the novel, no pivot to connect all of the various threads of the story.

The Light Years, by Elizabeth Jane Howard, begins with a very useful list of members of the Cazalet Family and their households. The elder Cazalets, dubbed The Brigg and Duchy, live in the countryside with their unmarried daughter, Rachel. Hugh, the eldest son, is married to Sybil; Edward, the middle son, is married to Villy; and Rupert, the youngest, is now married to Zoe after the death of his first wife. Zoe isn’t very fond of her step-children, and it remains a mystery for most of the book why they married. He loves her because she is beautiful. She isn’t very fulfilled in her married life. Edward and Villy play the part of a happily married couple to the outside world, but Edward is having an affair and does something so unforgivable during the course of the novel that I can only call him a creep and hope that he doesn’t play a large role in the next book. My favorites were Hugh and Sybil, the only seemingly happy couple.

Between the three brothers, there are a large number of children populating this novel. Describing each of their plot lines would make this an unwieldy review, so just suffice to say that Howard is extremely talented at giving each child a distinct personality and at using the child’s perspective for comedic effect. One of my favorite characters was Miss Milliment, one time governess to Villy and now teacher to the younger generation of girls. She has excellent taste in literature and was one of the most sympathetic characters.

Some plots don’t go anywhere, such as a brief interlude involving Hugh’s maid being fired and conducting a heartless deed on her way out of the house. I suppose the point was that there are some very awful people in the world, but it seemed pointless and unnecessary. I think it’s a sign of how I felt about the book that, months after finishing, the points I can remember most vividly are when the characters behave particularly badly. I liked this book, but I’m not in a rush to read the second book. I will, eventually, but at the moment there are many other books I feel more enthusiastic about in my to-read pile.

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